For some reason, Summer always translates into big projects around the house for me. Last year’s involved putting a new roof on the house. This year, the project was far less work in the heat and much cheaper. Being tech-inclined, I’ve always expected to have my house hardwired with network jacks in places where they would be useful. Wireless wasn’t really cutting it for range, reliability, or speed. I bought some time with powerline networking (See Networking Your House or Apartment Without Punching Holes In The Wall) but when I started streaming large files from the office to the TVs at opposite ends of the house, I decided it was time to run some cables.
I went with Cat6 cables and made everything else Cat6 (data jacks and patch cables) and a gigabit switch to speed up the network. I only had to cut one new hole in the wall. I was able to use some pre-existing holes from coax cable boxes and in one case, I improved the coax that the cable company had running outside, up a wall, and back inside by bringing it inside the wall with the new network cables.
My house has a crawlspace which was more accessible than the attic, so I ended up running the cables under the house and spent a lot of time down there getting things figured out.
- Flexible drill bit
- Spade drill bits
- Drywall saw
- Knife or scissors to cut the cable jacket at the ends
- 500′ of Cat6 networking cable (size depends on how many runs you’re going to do and how far you have to go)
- Cat6 patch cables or heads to make your own cables
- Leviton Cat6 network jacks (come with punch-down tool)
- Leviton QuickPort wall plates
- Leviton Coax Connectors
- Recessed low-voltage cable wall plate & low-voltage old works mounting bracket
- Old works boxes
- Wire staples for cable management without pinching the cables
- Knee pads
- Fish Tape
Here are some of the general tips I picked up through this project.
- If you’re building a new house, I have nothing to say. You’ve got it easy. Get all the wiring you want done before the drywall goes up.
- If you’re trying to retro-wire an existing house like I did, have fun! Get some old works boxes and feed the cables through them. Old works boxes clamp onto the drywall adjacent to your hole and give you something with which to secure your wall plates.
- Use the stud-finder to get the picture behind the wall. The last thing you want to find is that you cut into the drywall and ended up dead-center on a stud. Note: By standard, studs are 16″ apart.
- Internal walls are great and external walls are pains. Try to use internal walls if it fits where you need the network drop because they typically don’t have insulation on the inside. It is a big pain to run wires through or beside insulation. Also beware of any other wiring going behind the wall where you’re cutting. You obviously won’t want to cut any cables, but cutting live 110V electric wires while holding a metal saw is especially dangerous. You want to steer clear of electric wires anyways because you don’t want the electromagnetic interference diminishing your signal.
- Before you start cutting into the drywall, move any electronics away from the area. Drywall dust tends to fly easily and you don’t want the dust ruining anything. After you’ve completed your cutting a dust buster or vacuum will take care of that dust easily enough before it gets packed in anywhere.
- Cut your holes in the wall the same height as the rest of your outlets so they look inline and use a level to make sure your hole is properly vertical. Slide in an old works box to make sure you’ve cut the hole big enough and you’re all set.
- Once you have the hole in the drywall cut, you can use the flexible drill bit to stick it inside the wall and drill through the sub-flooring to provide the hole where your cable will come up. The size of the hole will depend on how many cables you’ll be running through. A bigger diameter drill bit will work or multiple holes work just as easily.
- Besides drilling down, you can also drill up. The problem with this approach is that you lose your landmarks of where you’re drilling. If you can’t precisely locate where you should be drilling, consider driving a small penny nail through the carpet and sub-flooring right along the baseboard to give yourself a landmark. Then you can drill up knowing where the outside edge of the wall is. It beats accidentally drilling up through the carpet.
- If you don’t need the flexible drill bit because there’s no pesky wall in the way, a spade drill bit will work just as well, if not better.
I was torn between the 500′ and 1000′ box of Cat6 cable but ended up opting for the 500′ box because based off of my estimates, it would still be more than enough to do my 6 pulls.
- I ran 2 cables to the East first. I pulled one cable to decide the path I would take and how long the cable needed to be. After I reached my destination, I could have gone back to the beginning and pulled the cable all the way back and measured out a second strand and then fed them both through again. Instead I opted to give myself plenty of slack on the first run, cut it, and just do a second run.
- You want to avoid putting any stress on the cable during the pull and avoiding sharp 90 degree turns. You can use zip ties to bundle the cables together though double-sided velcro is favorable because zip ties can get cinched really tight around the cable.
- A general rule of thumb I found online was to leave yourself 5 feet of spare cable inside the walls. This is easy to do on a hollow, interior wall but it is nearly impossible to tuck away that much on an external wall with insulation.
- I used the remaining cable for the last four runs, stretched it all out, doubled it over, and doubled it over again. I then cut at the “folds”. This gave me 4 cables of the same length. I then bundled all 4 together with electrical tape and fed it through the floor joists above the crawlspace and to its destination. The cable length gave about 5 feet of spare on one end and about one foot on the other. It made it exactly as needed since the short end was an external wall without a whole lot of room for the slack due to the insulation. Based off of my estimates, I should have had more cable left over than I did which I would use to make short patch cables but most of that extra was eaten up by having to wind around obstacles in my path.
- The Leviton quick connect Cat6 jacks were really easy to work with. They each came with their own punch-down tool, meaning I have 12 plastic punch-down tools. On the back of each jack is a guide for TIA/EIA-568B wiring. If you peel the 568B sticker off, it reveals the 568A standard. I went with the 568A wiring though it doesn’t really matter as long as both ends are the same.
- The Cat6 cable I had irked me a bit on how it was colored. Usually you have a green, blue, orange, and brown wire as well as white and green stripe, white and orange stripe, white and blue stripe, and white and brown stripe wires. This one seemed a bit cheap in that it had green, blue, orange, and brown wires and four white wires twisted with each color. I understand they’re twisted pairs so you just use the white wire twisted with its color but it still seems cheap to make just white wires.
After all this, I had nice professional-looking network jacks reaching opposite ends of the house all wired up with gigabit speed. The TiVo, PS3, and laptop are noticeably more reliable and faster than going through the wireless or powerline adapters. I’m enjoying the ability to stream videos without any chugging or buffering. Along with some shorter patch cables and a 26-port gigabit switch upgrade to the infrastructure, the project is very functional and looks great.
Knowing what I know now, I would estimate that I could get this project knocked out over a weekend if I had all the materials available.